When you wake up and your head is spinning faster than Natalia Kanounnikova’s record setting twirl, you know you’ve indulged in one too many glasses of wine.
In an attempt to undo what you’ve already done, you Google “how to cure a hangover.” Lo and behold the World Wide Web tells you to sleep it off. Part of the reason you feel off your game? Because booze affects your snooze in a big way, and last night’s cocktail party killed your quality of sleep.
Sip Goodbye to Sleep Cycles and REM Sleep
Alcohol is a depressant so it’s not surprising that people reach for a nightcap to wind down in the evening. In fact, as many as 20 percent of Americans use alcohol to help them fall asleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). And while it’s true that a drink or three will make falling asleep faster, once you’re out, alcohol interferes with your sleep cycles, leaving you feeling depleted the next day.
That’s because when you drink before bed your brain experiences both alpha and delta activity. Julia Chan – co-author of a study that appeared in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research – explains: “When you see alpha activity alongside delta activity during sleep, it suggests there might be some kind of wakefulness influence that could compete with the restorative nature of delta sleep.”
In plainer terms, your brain is getting mixed messages on whether it should be awake or asleep, meaning that last Manhattan is affecting your good, old-fashioned restorative sleep.
But it doesn’t stop there. NSF also says that alcohol consumption has long been known to reduce REM sleep, which is where most dreams occur, memories are stored, and where we process much of what we’ve learned that day. When we miss out on REM we wake up feeling foggy and sluggish the next day.
Excessive alcohol consumption can also be the kiss of death for your circadian rhythm and result in breathing problems throughout the night. In fact, in some cases, it can even cause sleep apnea. For you that means narrowed airways and labored breathing. For your partner, it means enduring a long night of cruel and unusual snoring.
Oddly enough, alcohol isn’t categorically bad for your sleep. While high levels of blood alcohol content (BAC) will definitely have a negative impact on the quality of your sleep, according to Sleep Junkies, small doses could actually increase total sleep time.
In some instances, it’s even been known to help insomniacs catch some desperately-needed zzz’s. But the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism cautions that anyone can quickly develop a tolerance to alcohol’s sedative effects. This tolerance could lead to excessive nighttime drinking, and potentially daytime drinking, too – especially for insomniacs.
The key? Moderation. A drink or two every once in a while won’t cause significant harm, but you might want to rethink your routine if you’re indulging nightly. And before you fall victim to one too many rosemary garnished, absinth-spritzed cocktails on your next outing, learn what you can do to prevent that wicked hangover the next day, rather than swearing it off for good.